Tentatively, I opened the door to the shed and stood, listening. Silence. Silence for a while. And then… a sigh. A drawn out sigh of resignation that ended in a snuffle. The sigh was deep, both in its melancholy and in conveying a sense of size: something was in the Have-a-Heart trap in the loft, and it was no mouse.
Whatever it was, I knew it was trapped, so why was I too anxious to climb the ladder to the loft and look? The creature could not hurt me, but maybe guilt was nibbling at me some. Why is it always animals that lose out? Why are they always the ones trapped, killed, and removed? Who is really in whose space?
This is an ongoing discussion for Dave and me… as the groundhog parades her annual litter of three into the yard, as deer browse the just-about-to-bloom flowers in the garden, as something tears down insulation and knocks over stored jars to make his new residence in our shed more comfy. Dave growls in frustration while I side with the animals. We live in the woods; we made that choice. The creatures belong here; we are the ones who moved in.
When first we heard heavy thumpings in the eaves of the shed and saw the type of damage inflicted, we were pretty sure our new tenant was a raccoon. A month before, soon after the snow thawed, we’d seen a large, snoozy fellow at our bird feeders. It was early in the day, unusual, so, concerned the raccoon might be sick, I contacted our town’s Animal Control Department.
The uniformed Animal Control officer arrived within half an hour. She was soft-spoken and seemed knowledgeable. Together we stood on the back porch in watery sunlight that held no warmth and watched as the raccoon spotted us and lumbered down a slope and out of sight. A minute later, he peered over the rise, and seeing we’d come no closer, returned to scavenge for fallen seeds.
The animal was thickly furred, steady in gait, but wary. “Looks healthy, “ said the officer. “Just hungry. Might be a nursing mother desperate to build up calories.”
I told her I was happy to share seeds, and just wanted to make sure rabies weren’t an issue. The officer was surprised I wasn’t more adamant about removal. “Most people aren’t so tolerant or understanding.” she said. Sad news; I hadn’t thought I was being particularly tolerant and understanding, simply cautious and rational. “Most people just want to get rid of them,” she added.
But now, a large something was making a mess of the shed – the shed that holds our garden tools, coolers, vases, portable chairs, and assorted summer-type-stuff – so we had to take action.
Dave turned to Google, typed in “raccoon in my shed,” contacted the first company listed, and made an appointment. “Before this guy comes over,” I said, “make sure he plans to release the animal, not kill it.” Glad I asked. When Dave called back, he was told that by Connecticut law, “nuisance animals” removed from a property must be exterminated.
The justification given was the need to curb the spread of rabies, but how many healthy animals snuggle their families into what they think is a cozy little den, except it’s someone’s attic, chimney, or shed? The creatures are trapped, removed, and often needlessly killed…sometimes leaving behind babies to starve.
We cancelled that appointment, and I called a wildlife organization for advice. When I described the nature of the damage and the raccoon we’d seen in the yard, the representative at the center also believed the shed-invader was a raccoon, and likely, a nursing mother. He was well aware of the Connecticut law, but gave me the number for “the only organization we recommend and trust” that might be able to help. The rep also added, “If it’s a mother and she has babies, it’s really best to leave them in place until she takes them out herself.” While I was quietly thrilled at hosting this little family and helping them survive, Dave was less so, but resigned to doing the right thing.
When I spoke by phone to Phil, the individual recommended by the wildlife center, he reviewed various removal strategies at length. Should the raccoon be male, Phil would trap and release it elsewhere. If it were a female with babies, the first option would be to release her from the trap, sprinkle the area with male raccoon urine, and hope the mom removed the babies herself. Apparently male raccoons sometimes eat offspring, so females are rightfully cautious. If, however, Phil found the occupied space to be too large, the urine plan would be ineffective. “And if we can’t locate the pups,” he said, “I’ll have to release the mother on your property. You don’t want the babies dying in the wall.” Definitely not.
The next day, Phil and his associate, Jeff, came by to scope out the scene and set the trap. Phil walked briskly around the perimeter of the shed, pointing out numerous openings and the smooth hollows in the dirt before them where animals had “bellied” their way in. Then he went into the shed, surveyed the damage, and took pictures of the area beneath the eaves where Dave and I had heard the thumping.
“It would be impossible for a human to climb in there to retrieve pups, “ he said. “And sealing all this off? There are countless ways for animals to get in. If you’re serious about it, you’ll have to build a concrete foundation around the base of the shed. For the time being, though, we’ll set the trap and see who shows up.”
And so, the next morning, I stood in the shed, just below the loft, listening to those sighs, and wondering who had shown up.
Phil and Jeff returned in the early afternoon. Before we opened the shed door, Phil bid us be quiet so we could listen for the whimpers of hungry babies. Again, I stood in the entrance to the shed, listening, along with these two kind men. Shhhh. Listening. Shhhh. Still listening…
Nothing. If there were babies around, they weren’t giving anything away. Maybe their Mama had warned them to be quiet until she returned.
It was time to rescue the poor trapped soul in the loft. With a gentle voice and soothing sounds, Phil climbed the ladder and confirmed that we’d caught a raccoon. Jeff called up to him, “male or female?”
“Male,” said Phil.
“Are you totally sure?” I asked Jeff. I hated the thought of stranded babies.
“100% sure,” he assured me.
It was a big trap and a big raccoon, and it took both men to lower the captive over the lip of the loft and down the ladder. The raccoon turned and twisted, trying to gain footing, but he did not scrabble or hiss. I felt an odd mixture of relief and sadness; this raccoon had chosen our shed, and we were sending him away.
I followed Jeff and Phil out to the pick-up truck with its bed filled with cages set on end. Five of them held furry bodies curled within, each with beautiful masked faces that turned to look at me. One stretched a foreleg up the side of its cage when Jeff lowered my raccoon in beside it. “Look at that,” I said.
“Sometimes they hug each other,” Jeff remarked as he gently sprayed my raccoon with water. “In case he’s overheated,” he explained. “He’s been in that trap for a while.”
Phil had mentioned that a nursing mother and her babies were slated for removal from another property on the same run as mine, so I asked if they’d picked them up yet. He nodded, led me to the cab of the truck, and bent to pick up a small cardboard box on the floor on the passenger side. He began to open the flaps of the box, then paused and said quietly, “don’t touch them…”
Nestled in a soft cloth were four tiny raccoons. Perfect, fuzzy, eyes closed, and masked. I wondered which of the captives in the back was their mother. “They’ll be hungry soon,” Phil said, “so we’ve got to get going so we can give them back to their mom.”
As the truck drove away, my heart was full. Jeff and Phil were so kind, yet I was teary at the thought of this truck full of animals that had made the mistake of choosing a home in the wrong place; at the thought of other truckloads of similar sad cargo that would be taken away and killed. And I was so grateful, so very grateful, that these raccoons, my raccoon, and the box of beautiful babies, would be treated with compassion and released in the woods.
Note: It is a sad statement that organizations seeking to deal with animals humanely must remain anonymous because of Connecticut’s heartless law, but so it is. I plan to write letters to my congressmen asking them to repeal this law, and I hope others will too.